Getting ready to rent your first apartment? Renting again after a few years out of the rental market? Even an old pro may need a refresher course in renting basics. The information in this section should help you make informed decisions as a renter.
This section is ideal for general information and answers to commonly asked questions on a variety of topics.
Before you rent
Whether you're renting your first place of your own, moving to a new city or area, or just need a change of scenery, one of the most important decisions you'll make is where you'll live.
If you are renting, you will most likely sign a lease, which is a legal obligation to live someplace and pay rent for a certain length of time (usually six months or a year). There are very few exceptions in which a lease can be broken. Therefore, your rental home should be chosen with great care.
Learn the lingo
Renting a place to live may be a lifestyle choice for you, but it's also a business transaction. Here are some common terms you'll need to be familiar with:
- Lease: A lease is a binding, legal contract in which you agree to pay some amount of rent for a specific piece of property, for a specific period of time.
- Lease term: The length of time you agree to rent the property: 6 months, 9 months, a year, etc.
- Security deposit: Money you pay when the lease is signed to help offset the cost of any lease violation charges or property damages to the property while you are living there.
- Application deposit: Money you may be asked to pay in advance at the time you complete a rental application. If you are approved to rent the property, the application deposit (not the application fee) is usually applied to your security deposit.
- Rental application: A form you'll be asked to complete, giving information about your current and past addresses, current and past employers, other sources of income, criminal history, etc. Information in the application helps the property owner determine if you can afford to pay the rent and are unlikely to be a risk to the property or other residents.
- Application fee: An administrative fee to cover the costs of checking your credit, rental history, etc. when you submit a rental application. This fee is non-refundable.
- Default: Failing to follow the provisions agreed to in the lease.
- Resident: Someone who signs the lease and is obligated to pay rent.
- Occupant: Someone living with a resident, but who has not signed the lease and is not obligated to pay rent.
- Notice to vacate: Written notice given to you by the property owner, advising you that you must move out before the end of your lease term; this is the notice you will receive if you are evicted. A notice to vacate can also be given to advise you that the property owner will not renew your lease for any additional term.
- Eviction: The property owner asks a Small Claims Court to end the resident's right to occupy the property. If you are evicted, a sheriff’s deputy will remove your belongings and you must leave the property. The eviction process allows a Magistrate to determine the merits of the property owner's request.
What to look for in your lease
Besides the features you must have and the amenities you'd like to have, you'll need to take a close look at your lease to see what your obligations will be, and what you can expect from the property owner.
- When is the rent due, who do you pay it to, and where?
- Are there late charges if you don't pay the rent on time? How much are they, and when do they first apply?
- How much advance notice must you give before moving at the end of your lease term? Thirty days written notice used to be the norm when rent is paid monthly, but some properties now require 60 days notice.
- What will you be responsible for if you need to move out before the end of your lease term? Does this include paying back the difference between the market rental rate an any special rate you may have received?
- Can you have roommates, and what are the property's policies toward roommates?
- What restrictions, if any, will affect your security deposit refund?
- What are the property owner's obligations to make needed repairs? A requirement for diligence is common.
- How should you request repairs? You may be asked or required to make all repair requests in writing. Even if it's not required, it's a good idea to put all requests in writing.
- What does the rent include? Any furniture? Utilities? Parking? Amenities?
- Are there any instructions for cleaning the apartment when you move? Cleaning costs usually can be deducted from your security deposit if you fail to follow instructions.
- Are there prohibitions against subletting or keeping animals? Written permission is usually required. Also, there is usually an extra deposit for animals.
Most disagreements between residents and rental housing owners or managers occur because of misunderstandings about obligations each has agreed to in the lease.
To limit problems:
- Read your lease carefully before you sign it.
- Ask questions about anything that is unclear, or that you don't understand.
- Put everything in writing, including agreements, notices and requests.
What will it cost?
Local rents usually take into consideration:
- the cost of living in the community
- the cost of doing business in the community (taxes, utility costs, impact fees, inspection fees or permits, etc.)
- the cost of building and financing the property
- the cost of operating the property (staff costs, maintenance, improvements, etc.)
- what comparable properties are renting for
- what features and amenities are offered to all residents at the property
- the size and particular features and amenities of the actual apartment
There are no rent control laws in North Carolina. That means property owners are free to set their own rental rates, and you are free to accept them or look for a better deal at another property that meets your needs.
Know your budget, and don't look at properties you can't afford. If you've identified properties you're interested in, ask for the properties' rental criteria to find out if they are in your price range.
Rent will be a big part of your budget, but it's not the only expense you'll have associated with your cost of housing. Make sure you also plan for other expenses.
Your budget will also need to consider:
- Routine expenses
- Moving expenses
- Furnishings and household necessities
- When you are comparing apartments, ask which, if any, utilities are included.
- You'll almost certainly be paying for electricity and gas, if applicable.
- Paying for water and wastewater, and even trash collection, is becoming more common.
- You'll pay for any cable and phone service you use, as well.
- Most utilities charge on consumption--the more you use, the more you pay.
There are three main types of deposits involved in renting property:
- Security deposits
- A security deposit is money you pay in advance to offset the cost of any damages to the property while you are living there.
- You may be expected to pay a security deposit when you first move in.
- Application deposits
- An application deposit is money you may be asked to pay in advance at the time you complete a rental application.
- This deposit is applied toward your security deposit if your application is approved.
- If your application is not approved, the deposit is refundable in most cases. However, depending on the application you fill out, the deposit may not be refunded if you are accepted but decide not to move in, you fail to tell the truth on your application, or for certain other reasons.
- Pet or animal deposits
- An animal deposit (sometimes called a pet deposit) is additional money you are asked to pay in advance to offset any damages caused by an animal during the time you are renting the property.
- If you'll be moving in with a pet, you can expect to pay a pet or animal deposit.
- An animal deposit is basically an additional security deposit.
- A portion of the animal deposit may be non-refundable and used to pay for de-fleaing and cleaning your property.
- Other deposits
- In addition to the deposits you'll be expected to pay the property owner, you may also be required to give deposits for utility services. Utility deposits may vary depending on your history of payment, expected usage and the policies of the various utility companies.
What happens if you are robbed, or there is a fire or other accident at your rental property? Who will pay for your damaged or lost belongings?
If you have renters insurance, your insurance should cover your losses, minus any deductible.
If you don't have insurance, you'll be responsible for replacing or repairing your property. Your personal property--your clothing, furniture, electronics, appliances, jewelry, etc.--is not covered by the apartment owner's insurance when you rent an apartment, or by a property owner's homeowner's insurance if you are renting a house or duplex.
If the property owner or his employees negligently caused the accident, you may have grounds to recover damages from the dwelling owner, but you'll need to have legal advice.
If you were responsible for the damage, you may be liable to the property owner or other residents whose property was damaged. Because of this, some properties may require you to purchase renter's insurance or personal liability insurance.
If you have roommates or pets
If you plan to have a roommate or pet (or any kind of animal), you need to find out the rental property's policies before you bring them home.
- If you'll be sharing the rent with a roommate, make sure you both understand your responsibilities.
- If you both sign the lease, each of you will be responsible for the full amount of the rent if the other does not pay.
- If your roommate moves out before the end of the lease, you'll still be responsible for all the rent.
- If you need to find another roommate to help with expenses, your new roommate will need to be approved by the property owner, and you may need to sign a new lease or a lease addendum.
- An unauthorized occupant is not considered a roommate and is not responsible for fulfilling the terms of the lease. If you move, any unauthorized occupant is not responsible for the remaining lease term and you, alone, will be required to fulfill any terms required by the owner in relinquishing your occupancy of the unit prior to the end of the lease term.
- If you have animals
- If you have an animal, or would like to get one, check with the property first about its policies concerning animals.
- Except for support animals for disabled individuals, properties are not required to accept pets or other animals.
- If animals are allowed, an additional deposit is common.
- If you keep an unauthorized animal, you'll be violating your lease and you may owe additional charges for having the animal.
- Follow the property's rules concerning your animal or pet. Don't allow your animal to roam free, or disturb your neighbors.